No. 23 Liberty Flames (9-1, FBS Independent) vs No. 9/11 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (11-0, 8-0 Sun Belt)
Date/Time: Saturday, December 26th, 7:30 PM (6:30 CST)
TV: ESPN (Play-By-Play: Roy Philpott/Analyst: Kelly Stouffer/Sidelines: Alex Chappell)
Radio: Liberty Flames Radio Network WRVL 88.3 Lynchburg (Play-By-Play: Alan York/Analyst: Paul Rutigliano/Sidelines: Nick Pierce) WRNN 99.5 FM Myrtle Beach (Play-By-Play: Joe Cashion/Analyst: Layne Harris/Sidelines: Chris Burgin)
Location: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
Betting Line: O/U 59.5 Coastal Carolina -4.5
All-Time Series Record: Tied 7-7 (Coastal Carolina won last matchup 42-7 in 2016)
The Flames are led by one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks in Malik Willis. After redshirting last season following his transfer from Auburn, Willis has picked up the reigns where former two-year starter Stephen Calvert left off. The 6-1, 215-pound signal-caller has thrown for 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions, while also leading the team in rushing with 807 yards and 10 scores. Entering Saturday’s game, the junior QB is expecting his toughest test of the year from the Coastal Carolina defense.
“They are a hard-nosed defense and they are out there trying to hit you hard, shake you and rattle you,” said Willis. “They’re a good defense and we just have to go out there and do what we have to do.”
At the helm of head coach Hugh Freeze’s RPO-based offense, Willis has led Liberty to an average of 38.3 points per game, the 17th highest-scoring offense in FBS football. Expect Liberty to spread the ball around through the air as the top-three pass catchers for the Flames (D.J. Stubbs, Demario Douglas and Kevin Shaa) are all separated by only five receptions apiece. The three-headed attack of running backs Joshua Mack, Peytton Pickett and Shedro Louis will all see action and account for over 1,600 yards on the ground.
Freeze’s team has been equally as impressive on the defensive side of the ball, allowing an average of 19.2 points per game, slotting them 17th in the nation. Safety Javon Scruggs and defensive end Durrell Johnson are the standouts of the unit. Scruggs led the Flames’ defensive backs in tackles for the second consecutive season with 61 in his first full season at safety after playing cornerback in his first two seasons. Johnson, along with sophomore defensive end TreShaun Clark make up one of the more formidable tandems in college football. The two have combined for 19 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks this season.
Coastal Carolina Preview
Following an undefeated regular season, Jamey Chadwell’s Coastal Carolina team was forced to withdraw from the Sun Belt Conference Championship game due to COVID-19 issues within the Chanticleers’ program.
With the team presumably at full strength, they’ll head to Orlando and face a top-25 opponent for the third time this year. In order for Chadwell’s team to leave Central Florida with a victory, they’ll need a solid effort from the Sun Belt Conference Freshman and Player of the Year, Grayson McCall. The redshirt freshman quarterback leads the conference in passing efficiency (185.9) and passing yards with 2,170. He’s also accounted for 29 total touchdowns (23 passing, six rushing) while only turning the ball over four times.
Despite being in his first year as a starter at the collegiate level, McCall feels relatively comfortable with Chadwell’s option-based offense.
“I have been doing triple-option stuff, since I was a freshman in high school, so I’m really comfortable with it,” said McCall. “As you can see this season, it can cause for some problems for defenses and not only the triple-option game, but us throwing the ball downfield and using different formations, which makes it hard for the defense to adjust,” said McCall during his media availability.
Chadwell notes McCall’s calm demeanor in aiding the success of Coastal’s offense this season.
“He has this cool, calm persona…I guess swag is the term that these kids use these days,” said Chadwell. “He has a confidence about himself in the way that he carries himself; we are playing Kansas in his first game and they are talking trash to him, but he just points at the scoreboard. He has a presence about him that the team rallies around.”
Defensive ends Jeffrey Gunter and Tarron Jackson will be tasked with stopping the Flames rushing attack, especially doing so behind the line of scrimmage. The tandem has accounted for 26 tackles for loss and 15 sacks on the season.
“It is definitely going to be a challenge because he is a mobile quarterback that can hurt you with his legs and his arm, so we are going to have to do a good job to keep him contained with our pass rush,” said Jackson. “He has a pretty solid offensive line and those guys protect him well, so we are going to have to try and do what we do and get pressure on him and we want to make him uncomfortable in any way we can.”
While the Flames have been a solid team overall in 2020, there’s no denying that Willis is the player that Liberty’s chances hinge on. Expect the Auburn transfer to have an excellent showing on Saturday night. However, Coastal Carolina is the more battle-tested team, having faced multiple ranked opponents, whereas the bowl game represents Liberty’s first challenge from a top-25 opponent. Willis will keep things close, but the Chants will pull away in the end.
Final Score: Coastal Carolina 30, Liberty 24